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President of the Republic at the Annual Baltic Conference on Defence 2017 – European Defence Cooperation: Out of the Shadows?

President of the Republic at the Annual Baltic Conference on Defence 2017 – European Defence Cooperation: Out of the Shadows?
President Kaljulaid at the Annual Baltic Conference on Defence 2017
© Andres Teiss

06.09.2017

Ladies and gentlemen,

The security situation and challenges Europe faces today are difficult ones. Difficult situations need honest and sincere debates, and I wish that your discussions today will be honest and sincere.

First let me begin by thanking Mister Sakkov, Mister Praks and their good colleagues from the ICDS and MoD for organizing this conference. The fact that so many distinguished participants have found their way to Tallinn, is itself a testimony that the ABCD has truly developed into one of the most renowned security-related forums in the region.

Let me take this opportunity to share some of my views on the security challenges facing Europe today. And on what has to be done to confront these challenges, and what are some of the aspects that should be kept in mind.

Conflicts, instability and humanitarian crises continue to plague wide areas in the Middle-East and Africa. In the Mediterranean Sea Region and in Europe-proper this has manifested itself through a migration wave which is difficult to control, to say the least. Religious extremism has spread its roots in some parts of the migrant diasporas or among their descendants.

Terrorist attacks are unfortunately in the headlines worrisomely often.

There is also a feeling of uneasiness among people of the countries who have welcomed people from different cultural backgrounds into their countries and treated them with the full respects of our freedoms. Only to discover that some of the newcomers do not respect these freedoms from which they have benefitted from.

This makes us search for ways and means to welcome cultural differences, whilst making sure that our cultural landscape, which has developed through centuries of trial and error, remains predominant in our countries. That women remain independent, individuals aspirations remain important, and the life of human being remains sacred.

Ladies and gentlemen

As our society is facing new challenges conventional threats have not abated.

While we gather here in Tallinn for the ABCD conference – a conference that has become a traditional and anticipated event – there is a gathering of a completely different kind in the training areas of Russia's Western Military District and Belorussia. Namely the Russian military exercise Zapad 2017, meaning "west" in Russian. An event that has also become sort of a traditional one, but certainly nothing that is well-anticipated on this side of the border.

Here are some facts:

- Large number of additional troops have already been deployed to the NATO's and EU's eastern border, by a state that used military force against its neighbours just recently.

- Officially Zapad has been declared as an anti-terrorism exercise, but the number and nature of the troops, weapons, aircraft and ships used, suggests something totally different. Most likely offensive operations against NATO member states will be exercised.

- The Zapad exercise cycle will culminate with Russia's nuclear triad exercise.

- Russia has not been open about the objectives nor the range of the exercise, hiding the complex exercise from international scrutiny by presenting it as a series of smaller exercises. And in the same time insisting that dialogue with the West is necessary and useful, and that everybody should return to business as usual.

Having said that, we need to stress that our threat assessment has not changed – we assess the threat of direct military offensive against NATO/ EU countries to be low. Rather there is a heightened risk of incidents. But as ZAPAD is executed in a non-transparent fashion, it does raise serious questions about the intent and plans of the Russian Federation. Nevertheless Estonia, other Allies and NATO as a whole will keep calm, but vigilant about Zapad 2017.

But in many sense Zapad 2017 is certainly a vivid reflection of the security challenges shared by other countries in the Baltic sea region and the whole eastern wing of EU and NATO.

All these challenges and uncertainties have had also a clear awakening effect on Europe. Namely a renewed understanding that security and defence is still important, in all conventional domains plus the newly evolving cyber and hybrid domains. Not only among decision makers, but also among the citizens of European countries. And therefore security can now be taken a step further from declarations and initiatives that are sometimes short-lived. And sometimes look like white tigers made of paper.

Since these challenges are borderless and sometimes independent from geography, going it alone is not at all an option. Closer together is how we tackled the financial crisis, this is the way we have retained sanctions on Russia for three years. And this is the way we will continue to solve common challenges, even if the solutions might not always seem perfect.

This does not and cannot mean that NATO's role is somehow diminishing.

On the contrary – NATO will remain the main provider of collective defence and deterrence for Europe. But there are a number of fields where EU cooperation and mechanisms can be used to complement the transatlantic alliance.

Therefore I can only be pleased that a safe and secure Europe is one of the priorities of the Estonian EU Presidency, and that this year's ABCD is dedicated to these issues.

One of Estonia's four priorities in the Common Security and Defence Policy agenda during our Presidency is more and better defence spending. In this sense I am hopeful that the planned initiatives will bear fruit. Whether it's finding ways to implement PESCO, prove funds for research through the European Defence Fund or strengthen European defence industrial base through the European Defence Industrial Development Programme.

There is one worry in this renewed enthusiasm on spending more – it is affecting the prices in the defence sector, already now, when pledges have been made, but spending has not yet grown considerably.

This needs to be kept in mind when we talk about effective spending. In some countries the 2% benchmark has been achieved and efficient spending is fully feasible, but the investment level in real terms risks to fall because of the inflation in the oligopolistic market.

This does not mean that we should not be making pledges to raise defence spending, but I rather find that EU might be the institution with tools to tackle this problem. Where there is a radical need to spend in one member state, lack of investment opportunity elsewhere, and a common will.

Common procurement and defense investment funding may help, but it might be worth considering the conventional EU redistribution models also in defense spending. We already have some good bilateral examples – Luxembourg's investments into the NATO cyber range project in Estonia might in this case be a good first example of this kind of cooperation.

Let's be open-minded about this kind of opportunities. EU's best-known capacity is to harmonize between member states, and in this case it would be the possibility to harmonize the level of protection.

However I would like to point out that no matter how important are initiatives aimed at doing more joint capability development and spending, they will not abolish the need for countries to spend more on their own defence budgets. Because:

First of all, due to conventional threats the need for conventional capabilities and troops have not gone away. To put it more bluntly – in many cases it still might be a solid piece of metal, usually travelling at the speed of 700 meters per second that might make a difference. This is what is making a difference now in Ukraine.

Secondly, restoration or creation of practically any military capability,

will inevitably take years even if funding is provided. But taking into account how suddenly security challenges might emerge, time is something that we might not have.

Therefore aspiring to the 2% of GDP benchmark should not be seen just as something that member states in NATO have agreed upon, or just as a sign of solidarity. But as something that is more likely to guarantee a sensible balance inside each countries defence budget between the personnel, operating and investment costs, and something that will more likely guarantee a sustainable armed force.

Dear listeners,

A long and interesting day awaits you. Your discussions will be full of acronyms and details. But before we delve into this defence establishment lingo, I would like to take the opportunity to remind us the core values of the European Union – freedom, democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights.

Policies, initiatives, activities wary and change in time. But these are the core values that brought the Union together and they are what keep the Union together. These are the core values that will remain unchanged, and these are the core values that the Union must defend. There is no good acronym for them, but the core values are the one's that are our strongest line of defence.

Thank you, and I wish you interesting discussions.